"Last year we were trying to figure out who everybody was, how they fit into the schemes we thought we could run, and they were trying to figure out who we were and how we do things," said offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield. "Now we kind of know who we are and what we need to do to be successful in our league [American Athletic].
"Once you have a kid like P.J., especially at that position, all that he learns allows him to be way more productive. There were times at the beginning where he didn't have any idea why we were doing something. Now he understands. And he's developing into a leader."
The emphasis this spring has been on situational football.
"When you get a guy at his level, from 20 [yard line] to 20 you're going to be fine. But once you're inside the [red] zone, how are we going to get it done when you have to convert a third-and-3? Anybody can get there. It's the ones who can score touchdowns that win the games. That really hurt us last year. That's when you have to make the right decisions. It comes down to all those little minute things that you don't always see on TV."
On the other side of the ball, the Owls got burned by a lot of long passes, especially late in games. It cost them against Fordham, Rutgers and Central Florida. So Rhule brought in several midyear transfers from the junior-college ranks that figure to have an immediate impact.
"They're going be huge for us," said defensive coordinator Phil Snow. "And there's two or three who aren't here yet who we're also counting on. The great thing is, we have all these kids for 2 or 3 more years. So they'll grow. We can get a lot better. We will. The improvement from last year at this time to now has been night and day."
In 2013, creating turnovers was a major problem.
"We have players whose goal is to attack the ball," Snow said. "Last year, we beat ourselves a lot of times. We can't do that. We have to make other people beat us.
"You have to have the courage to make a play, to play fast and physical from the snap to the whistle, to do what the coach tells you to do. If you hit and you know what you're doing, you're going to be tough to beat."
The Owls open at Vanderbilt on a Thursday night, Aug. 28. The first home game is Sept. 6 against Navy at the Linc.
Vandy went 9-4 last season, winning its last five, for James Franklin, who of course is now doing his thing at Penn State. The Commodores beat Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl, 41-24. Houston beat the Owls here last season in early September, 22-13.
Navy also finished 9-4, also closing with five wins, including 24-6 over Middle Tennessee State in the Armed Forces Bowl. Temple hasn't played the Midshipmen since 2009, a 27-24 Owl victory in Annapolis.
On Twitter: @mikekerndn